China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is celebrating its 10-year milestone, marking a decade of expanding global influence. The BRI, a global infrastructure initiative, has become a significant project for Chinese President Xi Jinping, who will open the forum in Beijing. The summit has attracted representatives from up to 130 countries, including Russian President Vladimir Putin and Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban.
During the forum, President Xi and President Putin are expected to have a bilateral meeting, along with other world leaders. Mr. Putin expressed satisfaction over the development of relations with European countries, despite limited possibilities due to geopolitical conditions. PM Orban also met with President Xi and reaffirmed Hungary’s commitment to participating in the BRI, even though Italy has decided to leave the initiative later this year.
The BRI was conceived by President Xi in 2013 with the goal of reviving the old Silk Road and maritime routes that connected Asia, Europe, and Africa. It involves developing a new network of roads, railways, energy pipelines, ports, and streamlined border crossings. China has invested over $1 trillion in more than 3,000 projects under the BRI, extending its influence to Latin America.
Some notable projects include a high-speed railway linking China with Laos, an economic corridor connecting Pakistan through transport and energy projects, and the construction of a new port in Sri Lanka. However, the initiative has faced criticism, with accusations of debt trap diplomacy. Critics argue that Chinese loans have resulted in defaults from some countries, giving China leverage over poorer nations.
China rejects these claims, stating that most countries with debt problems owe more to international lenders than to China. To avoid potential embarrassment at the forum, China recently agreed to restructure loans owed by Sri Lanka and Zambia. Though China has been financing fewer substantial infrastructure projects in recent years due to the pandemic and economic recovery, the BRI’s focus has shifted towards smaller projects. China’s vice-premier, He Lifeng, highlighted the digital economy, smart manufacturing, and green economy as the future of the initiative.
The BRI serves as a crucial component of China’s diplomatic strategy, deepening its connections with developing countries. Through the initiative, China has gained support from many BRI partners when it comes to voting at the United Nations, particularly on sensitive issues such as human rights in Xinjiang and Tibet, as well as the protests in Hong Kong. Moreover, China’s alignment with the Global South has been evident in its calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas and its condemnation of the siege of Gaza.
As the BRI celebrates its 10-year milestone, it signifies China’s growing global influence. The initiative has both diplomatic and economic implications, allowing China to strengthen ties with developing countries while expanding its sphere of influence. However, it has also faced criticism regarding debt dependency and geopolitical leverage. As China focuses on smaller projects and new industries, it remains to be seen how the BRI will continue to shape global dynamics in the coming years.